Laughter and humour in Middle English texts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter

Abstract

Humour is notoriously difficult to define or to translate, whether from one language to another, or from one culture to another. A warm smile at a monk’s doodle about his cat; a wry chuckle at Piers Plowman’s satirical sketch of Mede’s cavalcade where Mede, Favel (Flattery), and False mount the backs of church and civil court officials as their steeds; and a giggle at Alisoun’s vulgar “Tehee” in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale are some of the responses a modern person might make to what we perceive as humour in Middle English poetry. A useful methodology for discerning the complexity of humour in the literature of the English Middle Ages is to study texts in which a medieval audience can be seen to appreciate humour. Both Boccacio and Chaucer employ the device of a frame story within which a number of narrators tell tales to each other. The audience’s reaction is recorded as part of the frame narrative; their appreciation of the humour, demonstrated in laughter or animated discussion, gives the modern reader many pointers as to what a medieval audience found amusing. Frequently, though not invariably, the medieval appreciation of humour corresponds with that of twenty-first-century readers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHumour in the arts
Subtitle of host publicationNew perspectives
EditorsVivienne Westbrook, Shun-liang Chao
Place of PublicationAbington, Oxon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Chapter4
Pages78-93
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780429849893, 9780429455827
ISBN (Print)9781138314641
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

Publication series

NameStudies for the International Society for Cultural History
PublisherRoutledge

Fingerprint

Laughter
Middle English
Medieval Period
Reader
Piers Plowman
Narrator
Geoffrey Chaucer
Monks
Miller's Tale
Person
English Poetry
Methodology
Language

Cite this

Scott, A. M. (2018). Laughter and humour in Middle English texts. In V. Westbrook, & S. Chao (Eds.), Humour in the arts: New perspectives (pp. 78-93). (Studies for the International Society for Cultural History). Abington, Oxon: Taylor & Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429455827
Scott, Anne M. / Laughter and humour in Middle English texts. Humour in the arts: New perspectives. editor / Vivienne Westbrook ; Shun-liang Chao. Abington, Oxon : Taylor & Francis, 2018. pp. 78-93 (Studies for the International Society for Cultural History).
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Scott, AM 2018, Laughter and humour in Middle English texts. in V Westbrook & S Chao (eds), Humour in the arts: New perspectives. Studies for the International Society for Cultural History, Taylor & Francis, Abington, Oxon, pp. 78-93. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429455827

Laughter and humour in Middle English texts. / Scott, Anne M.

Humour in the arts: New perspectives. ed. / Vivienne Westbrook; Shun-liang Chao. Abington, Oxon : Taylor & Francis, 2018. p. 78-93 (Studies for the International Society for Cultural History).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter

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Scott AM. Laughter and humour in Middle English texts. In Westbrook V, Chao S, editors, Humour in the arts: New perspectives. Abington, Oxon: Taylor & Francis. 2018. p. 78-93. (Studies for the International Society for Cultural History). https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429455827